Deadly summer as drowning figures say more work is needed
It is not like the movies, with flailing arms splashing the water and gurgled cries for help.
It is silent, quick and a leading killer of children and young people.
Drowning is the leading cause of unintentional death among young people with the greatest toll among children under the age of five, new data has found.
James Cook University Associate Professor Richard Franklin said 10 years of data from Australia, New Zealand and Canada found a drop in drowning deaths among people under 20, but a large increase in drownings for adolescent females and First Nations peoples.
"Many more children are impacted by non-fatal drowning, some experiencing long-term health impacts," said Dr Franklin.
He said children aged 0-19 years accounted for an average of 16-20 per cent of unintentional drowning deaths reported in Australia, Canada and New Zealand.
"But we found encouraging reductions in the number of drowning deaths in this age group; -49 per cent in Australia, -51 per cent in Canada and -30 per cent in New Zealand," Dr Franklin said.
He said the findings showed the value of ongoing investment in research-based prevention measures, increased public awareness and education, legislation and enforcement.
"Strengthening pool fencing legislation, for instance, is an example of evidence-informed policy attributed with halving swimming pool drowning deaths among 0-4 years in one state in Australia," Dr Franklin said.
Royal Life Saving Society Australia education adviser Dr Shayne Baker has spent decades working in that space, educating people on the importance of water safety and breaking down myths.
Drowning, he said, was "not like in the movies".
People drown within a very short space of time and the fact that someone goes under suggests, in a lot of cases, they are exhausted," he said.
"They have worn themselves out because when they're drowning, they are fighting for life.
"When they are under the water, they have exhausted their energy but they are still savable because you've got three to five minutes, depending on what conditions you are in.
"At three to five minutes without oxygen, you can survive without significant morbidity and damage."
The same number of drowning deaths have been recorded in Australia between December 1 and January 12.
Those 39 deaths, Dr Baker said, should be avoidable.
Dr Baker said two men who drowned in Victoria had recently completed swimming lessons in a controlled environment such as a pool were possibly unprepared for the rougher waters in a bay.
He said that was a set of circumstances reported in a number of drownings.
"You're going from an environment where they have learned very fundamental skills which is great but … then go into an environment with no experience, or swimming in an unpatrolled area," he said.
Emerald toddler Skyla Livingston drowned in a backyard pool accident on Thursday, January 7.
The little girl, who was just three weeks away from her second birthday, went through an unlocked door and managed to get into the swimming pool.
It was later found the latch on the pool gate was not working.
Two men drowned on Teewah Beach trying to save a young boy who got into trouble in the surf on December 5.
The men, aged in their mid-30s, went to try and save the nine-year-old boy but got into trouble themselves.
A third man, and possibly others, rushed in and pulled the trio ashore.
Dr Baker said it was vital bystanders going to help others took a half-second to prepare for the rescue.
In the JCU study, co-authored with researchers from the University of New South Wales and the Drowning Prevention Research Centre Canada uncovered a darker trend too.
Study author Dr Amy Peden said among 10 to 14 year olds, there was a 48 per cent increase in drowning recorded in Australia, and a 26.5 per cent increase among 15 to 19 year olds in New Zealand.
"This upward trend is being driven by increases in drowning among females, with a 196 per cent increase among 10 to 14-year-old females in Australia and a 200 per cent increase among female 15 to 19 year olds in New Zealand," Dr Peden said.
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The RLSSA has run extensive education and awareness campaigns on water safety but Dr Baker conceded they were lessons never finished.
He condemned the actions of swimmers jumping into the fast-flowing current at Cedar Creek Falls, warning people it was almost impossible to know the dangers below the water surface.
And with more than a month of summer left and statistics showing Sundays were the worst for drowning, he urged anyone near a body of water to be safe.